Frozen berry mix recalled due to hepatitis A link

A frozen berry mix sold in Costco and Harris Teeter stores has been linked to 34 cases of hepatits A in five states. 

Food and Drug Administration
A label for Townsend Farms Frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, which is being recalled due to a possible link to a multistate outbreak of hepatitis A.

A frozen berry mix sold at Costco and Harris Teeter stores nationwide is being recalled after being linked to 34 cases of hepatitis A in five states.

The Townsend Farms berry company based in Fairview, Ore. is recalling lots of its Frozen Organic Antioxidant Blend, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The blend was sold in Costco under the Townsend Farms brand and in Harris Teeter under the Harris Teeter brand. Additionally, the FDA is inspecting Townsend Farms’ processing facilities.

No other Townsend Farms products are included in the recall.

Costco customers who bought three-pound bags of Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend (with the bar code 0 78414 404448) should look on the back of the package. After the words "BEST BY," the affected bags will have codes ranging from T012415 all the way to T053115 (each code will be followed by a letter).

Customers of Harris Teeter, a grocery chain in eight southeastern states, should look for 10-ounce bags of Harris Teeter Organic Antioxidant Berry Blend (with the bar code 0 72036 70463 4). The affected bags were sold from April 19 until May 7, 2013 and have lot codes of T041613A, T041613C, or T041613E and a “BEST BY” code of 101614. 

The hepatitis cases were reported in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. The Centers for Disease Control investigated the outbreak and found that as of Friday, 11 of the 17 patients interviewed recalled eating the Townsend Farms berry mix. The recall came three days after the CDC announced a possible link.

The CDC recommends “that consumers do not eat ‘Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend’ and discard any remaining product from your freezers. Even if some of the product has been eaten without anyone in your home becoming ill, the rest of the product should be discarded.” 

Costco and Harris Teeter have pulled the product from shelves, and Costco told the Associated Press last week that it is making attempts to contact customers. Costco suggests keeping a receipt of the purchase. Harris Teeter says customers can return the product for a full refund.  

Specifically, the illness has been traced back to pomegranate seeds from Turkey in the Antioxidant Blend, Bill Gaar, a lawyer for Townsend Farms, told AP last week. Hepatitis A is rare in North America, but more often found in North Africa and the Middle East.

"We do have very good records, we know where the (pomegranate seeds) came from, we're looking into who the broker is and we're sourcing it back up the food chain to get to it," he said.

The recall is potentially a huge financial blow to Townsend Farms, the only family operation of its size still packaging strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and other berries in a low-margin, highly competitive industry dominated by corporations. 

All the other family operations "have either left or gone bankrupt," says Mike Townsend, president of the Oregon-based company (which also has operations in Vineland, N.J.), in a telephone interview. The company's 500 year-round employees are helping to man the toll-free recall number and reach out to customers who bought the affected packages.

"We're a faith-based family," he says. "We are praying."  

Customers with further questions should visit the recall announcement on the FDA's website or contact a Townsend Farms customer service representative at 1-800-875-5291 or townsendfarms5148@stericycle.com between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Pacific time. 

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